Hawaii Island is unlike any of the other Hawaiian Islands I’ve visited. There is lava rock everywhere. Because Hawaii is the largest island (they call it the Big Island for a reason), it takes longer to get from one side of the island to the other. The Big Island has two main airports, Hilo International and Kona International.
What you want to accomplish on your trip will determine what airport you fly into and inevitably which side of the island your accommodation will be on. For example, if you plan on spending most of your time at Volcanoes National Park, which is on the Hilo side, you should probably fly into Hilo International airport and find a hotel somewhere on that side of the island to save you a 1-2 hour drive.
With so much to do and see on the Big Island you’re probably wondering what can’t be missed and what you can skip, so without further ado, let’s get into the list!
1) HELICOPTER TOUR OVER VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK
This was high on my list, I knew I wanted to take this tour with Safari Helicopters. I’ve toured with them before and really enjoyed it. Since Kīlauea has been consistently erupting since 1983 the chances of seeing an active lava flow was high.
On May 3rd, 2018 Kīlauea violently exploded opening dozens of lava vents causing massive destruction. Eventually, the flow of lava stopped, completely. During our helicopter tour, we didn’t see any lava flowing, but I still had a fantastic time. It was terrific seeing Kīlauea from the air and seeing the sulfur smoke still billowing from Pu’u ‘Ō’o and fissure 8. It was also incredibly sad seeing all of the destruction Mother Nature caused.
2) VISIT A COFFEE FARM
Hawaii has over 650 coffee farms, most of which offer a tour. Hawaii is probably most known for their Kona coffee and since I was staying on the Kona side of the island, I know I had to go to “Kona Coffee Belt” to take a tour! There are a lot of farms to choose from. Being the coffee nerd that I am, I had a hard time deciding, I ended up choosing Greenwell Farms.
The tour itself was 30 minutes long and takes you through some of the orchards, the drying platforms, and wet mill. You also get free samples of their Kona Coffee to enjoy and possibly purchase. The tours at Greenwell run every 30 minutes and are available every day from 8:30am-4pm, no reservations are required.
3) PU’UHONA O HÕNAUNAU NATIONAL PARK
Pu’uhona O Hōnaunau National Park or “The City of Refuge” is a fantastic National Park with a tremendous history. Back in the day if you broke a sacred law or kapu, your punishment was death. In order to survive, you had to reach The Pu’uhonua, or a place of refuge to be protected. No physical harm could come to you once you were here.
There are carved wooden images that surround the Hale o Keawe temple, housing the bones of the chiefs that infuse the area with their power. Reaching this sacred place means you would be saved. How cool is that? This National Park is still to this day considered a sacred site. Therefore restrictions are in place. Check the website to see what is forbidden at this sacred site.
4) CATCH A SUNSET
Hawaiian sunsets in my book are the best and I never missed one the entire time I’m on the island. The condo I was staying at had a fantastic view of the Pacific Ocean meaning I didn’t have to go far to catch a glimpse. I was on Hawaii after Thanksgiving, and all of the sunsets were a beautiful golden color.
5) EAT AT KEN’S HOUSE OF PANCAKES
Ken’s is a pretty famous restaurant in Hilo and has been open since 1971. They are open 24 hours, 365 days a year. Over the years they have won numerous awards, including “best breakfast” every year since 1997 which is quite the accomplishment! There are rumors that someone in Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s family owns this restaurant. I didn’t ask if it was true or not, but there are numerous pictures of him and other celebs that have visited on the wall.
You can get anything on the menu any time of day. I will warn you now though the portions are enormous! I was most excited about their 9 different takes on the Loco Moco. I ended up with the Keiki Moco which is a smaller portion of the traditional Loco Moco, and it was delicious!
WHAT TO SKIP IN HAWAII
MAUNA LOA MACADAMIA FARM
I was incredibly excited when I found out you can take a tour of the Mauna Loa Macadamia Farm factory. I LOVE macadamia nuts! When I flew over it on the helicopter tour and saw all the orchards, I was even more excited to visit. When you take the 3-mile drive down the road with mac nut trees on either side of you, you think this is going to be great!
After parking, you can see the giant “Factory Tour” sign only to see in smaller print ‘self-guided.’ This “tour” is actually you looking in windows to see what is going on inside the factory. It took all of maybe 5 minutes to complete. There are TV monitors with a button to press, which I’m assuming are supposed to tell you what is going on inside, but the monitors didn’t work so I can’t confirm this. The retail shop has every flavor Mauna Loa makes, and they are more expensive here so you’ll have to figure out if that flavor you can’t find anywhere else is worth the price. Overall, this attraction was a letdown and not worth your time.
There you have it, 5 things you can’t miss in Hawaii and 1 that you can skip. I hope you enjoyed this post! If you have any other tips of can’t miss activities in Hawaii, please let me know in the comments below.
Have you been to Hawaii? If you have any additional tips for our readers or questions please leave these in the comments below.
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We Are Travel Girls Contributor Melina Ponder of CoffeeFernweh.com
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I love Hawaii! Really good tip about the Macadamia Nut Tour. A helicopter tour is definitely worth the splurge to see the big island.
This was my first visit to The Big Island and I loved it! It’s so different than the other islands. Thank you, I was so excited to visit Mauna Loa MacNuts and it was such a let down. Mahalo for reading!